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United States

Donald Trump hopes to back off from US$1.3 trillion spending deal with cuts to domestic programmes to offset deficit

The White House doesn’t want to touch funding for the military, border security and combating the opioid crisis, an insider said; but the move could alienate legislators on both sides of the aisle

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2018, 3:28am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2018, 6:44pm

With the federal budget deficit expanding and congressional elections seven months away, the Trump administration plans to ask Congress for cuts in domestic programmes that were part of a bipartisan US$1.3 trillion spending bill that President Donald Trump signed last month.

The White House does not want to touch extra funding for the military, border security and combating the opioid crisis in a package of proposed cuts it will send to Congress in the coming weeks, according to an administration official, who sought anonymity to outline the plan.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California has been working with the White House on a using a budget tactic called rescission, a Republican aide said.

[This could] poison the well for future responsible, bipartisan legislating
Democrat Representative Matthew Dennis

The size of the cuts that might be sought and a timetable for a Congressional vote has not been decided.

Any attempt to roll back spending is sure to trigger a backlash from Democrats who negotiated the extra domestic funding in exchange for agreeing to a bigger budget for the Pentagon. 

While Democrats would not be able to block it, some Republicans may be reluctant to blow up one of the few bipartisan agreements that have made it through the House and Senate.

“The administration is working to identify potential rescissions and at this point there is no completed list or dollar amount,” White House budget office spokeswoman Meghan Burris said.

The spending bill passed the House on a 256-167 vote and the Senate on a 65-32 vote last month after Republican leaders urged the rank and file to support the military increases despite the increases for domestic priorities.

The 2,232-page measure was the result of more than a month of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in Congress to end a cycle of government shutdown threats and stopgap spending bills.

Although the White House was part of the negotiations, Trump called the bill “ridiculous” and fumed over the lack of funding for the US$25 billion southern border wall he promised to build during his presidential campaign. 

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He threatened to veto it but backed down under the threat of a March 23 government shutdown.

The bill increased military spending by US$80 billion this year above previous spending limits and non-defence spending by US$63 billion.

Trump’s 2018 budget had sought a US$54 billion cut to non-defence spending.

Along with the US$1.5 trillion tax cut law, the additional spending is likely to swell the federal budget deficit, which is on track to hit US$1 trillion next year. 

That would take away one of the main lines of attack Republicans have used against Democrats in recent years – runaway federal spending – as they try to fend off a strong challenge to their control of the House in the November elections.

The rescissions request makes use of an obscure provision in the 1974 Budget Act that allows the president to request the cancellation of some spending and gives Congress 45 days to approve the measure.

Under a 1992 precedent in the Senate that limits debate, Republicans likely could pass the bill without any Democratic support.

It still would be difficult to pass in the Senate, according to another Republican aide. 

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That is because appropriations panel members would be concerned that making an end run around Democrats would take away incentives to negotiate on future legislation.

Democrats delivered a similar warning.

“Advancing a rescission package like the one described would lay waste to the notion that Republican leadership negotiated the omnibus in good faith and poison the well for future responsible, bipartisan legislating,” said Matthew Dennis, a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Democrats on Friday.

Steve Bell, a former Senate Republican budget aide of the Bipartisan Policy Center predicted that because of this, the package will face difficulties in the Senate and may not even be introduced.

Bell said he expected the White House would likely attempt to bring non-defence discretionary levels down by US$120 billion to put it in line with the Trump 2018 budget.

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Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a spending watchdog group, said the larger the request from Trump, the more difficult it will be.

“Unless it's a really targeted package that just focuses on some egregious waste, it is going to get enough people ticked off that it won’t go through,” he said.

Budget watchdogs say they would welcome the chance to reduce the roughly US$150 billion spending increase in the omnibus bill.

“I don’t have a view yet on this particular process, but certainly we overspent for FY 2018 and if we can pare the funds back a bit – both on the defence and non-defence side – that would be an improvement,” Marc Goldwein of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said.